By Ann Tatko-Peterson
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008 at 9:24 am in Schools.
Update: Antioch trustees approved the trip. Antioch’s “Music Masters” are Hawaii-bound.
Antioch Unified School District is set to decide Wednesday whether 27 Antioch High students can miss four days of school for a music competition trip. Music Masters Director Ron Molina shortened the trip from six missed days, but that still may not save the excursion to Hawaii. As board member Claire Smith noted in a Times article by Rowena Coetsee, “If the children are not at school, they cannot learn.” OK, with that, I take exception. Schools have put such an emphasis on college preparation, that enrichment programs have gotten short-shifted to the point that perhaps we are profoundly hurting our children’s education. I know, because while honors and AP classes prepared me for college, it was the enrichment end of my education that prepared me for my career.
I was luckier than most American students. With a father in the military, I attended a Department of Defense school in Ramstein, Germany, for my last three years of high school. We had the best of the best in terms of teachers. Funny thing about that group of the best, they taught dozens of advanced placement courses while also running one of the most extensive extracurricular programs I’ve ever seen in a school. Teachers encouraged me to make the most of both offerings, and so, I did. By the time I graduated, I had enough AP credits to fulfill a semester and a half at Penn State, which allowed me to double major and still graduate from college in four years and two months.
Those were academics as we define them today. But they weren’t how I learned. The real lessons came outside of the classroom and more specifically, on the trips I took with fellow students. I belonged to the Future Business Leaders of America, and by my senior year, was president of the club on the state level. That club alone resulted in my missing 10 days worth of school for leadership conferences in four different cities. I also attended speech competitions — a half dozen more missed school days — where a once shy kid turned into an orator capable of speaking confidently in front of six judges and more than 200 other students. I was a section editor for the yearbook (which included two more missed days of school for a big conference) and the overall editor of the school newspaper (three missed days for a major newspaper convention in which I met and learned from New York Times and Washington Post editors and writers). Altogether, I missed at least three weeks of school in my senior year — the same year I pulled in 22 credits on the AP tests.
And here’s the real kicker, what I really learned happened on the road, well beyond my high school. I met like-minded students with unique ideas and skills that over time I integrated with my own philosophies. I learned about winning and losing in competitions. I experienced the cultures of the places visited and saw firsthand the power of teamwork at play. Today, I cross paths with a lot of smart people, some of whom made academics the benchmark of their education. Sadly, a lot of these folks have no idea how to interact or work with colleagues.
So, I take exception to board member Claire Smith’s explanation that children not at school fail to learn. Instead, the board should work with teachers to outline a plan so students can make up missed tests. (In our school, the teacher who organized the field trip held a test session during the week after our return; he or she then administered all of the tests and handed them over to the respective teachers for grading.) Smith also used the “other opportunities” line to excuse the board possibly denying Antioch’s trip to Hawaii. She noted that the students could have gone during spring break — a time usually reserved for family vacations. Again, look at the bigger picture. These students have few years left with their families, let’s not infringe on that time. Allow them to have a valuable learning experience, even if it’s one that comes outside of the classroom.